The Wood Drift at the Unken Muckklause
On the tracks of the Wood Drifters
The crystal clear water bubbles sprightly through the Muckklause in the Unkener Heutal. This is an idyllic spot where many e-bikers and hikers are lingering today. The dam, 'klause' in German, was used in the past to back up the water so that when it was opened, lumber would float down to the valley in the resulting flush of water. The Muckklause has been extensively restored so that even today it can tell us a lot about the dangerous work of the lumberjacks and wood drifters.
Drifting meant washing the wood down over the course of the stream and for this purpose around 14,000 cubic metres of water were backed up behind the gate of the dam in the so-called 'dam yard'. “The dam was breached“, Sepp Auer said and gave this explanation during our conversation at the Kalchofengut, “The gate and the wooden supports of the dam were knocked out, whereupon the backed up water rushed out with enormous power, taking the piled up wood with it. Secondary dams on tributary streams along the main stream were also opened to enhance the flow of water. Then the wood drifters made sure no pile of wood backed up. Such a pile-up was called the 'fox' and the risky untangling of the wedged trunks cost some drifters their lives.“ The courageous men fought against the 'fox' with long poles which were pointed and hooked. On narrow walkways, such as those which can still be seen in the Seisenbergklamm, they poked and pulled the pieces of wood over the wild, bubbling water. One false move or a tiny slip and they fell into the ice-cold raging white water or they had to wade up to their waists in the water in order to steer the wood in the right direction. The enormous risk was the reason why only unmarried men were allowed to work as drifters. Many shrines in Unken bear witness to the numerous fatal accidents which occurred during drifting. On the other hand, votive tablets in the pilgrimage church Maria Kirchental depict miraculous survivals.
Coal Replaced the Wood Drift
After the narrow Klausbach was conquered, the wood found its way into the Saalach. Quietly but powerfully, the water carried the pieces of wood to the raking facility in Reichenhall. “There were always some losses, as not all of the wood which was thrown into the water in Unken arrived in Reichenhall. Part of it became wedged on the banks or was pulled out by the 'wood fishers'“. The wood fishers were residents of the Saalach who were allowed to take a certain amount of wood out of the water for their own use with a drifting pole. The saltworks accepted this loss because on the one hand, the wood fishers prevented a pile up of wood and on the other hand, there was no alternative transport route which could be considered at that time. Drifting at the Muckklause took place until 1911. The change to the firing of the saltwork brewhouses with coal spelled the end for drifting.
The gentle babbling of the stream in the middle of the dense, green forest brings me back to the present – I take a last look at the historic structure of the Muckklause and wander back to the place where I left my mountain bike. Thoughts of the adventurous history of the Unkener wood drifters accompany me all the way back to the Kalchofengut.